I was hit hardest by the music. The first hymn went, "The strife is o’er, the battle done; The victory of life is won; The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!" -- and I'm trying to sing along, it's a completely familiar hymn that I sang in my youth, but only a little croak comes out of my mouth, and the tears are splashing on the pew in front of me.
I'm thinking, song of triumph my eye. I'm angry that Bruce didn't get to have a lot more years. I think about Bruce the last time I saw him, a few days before his death, and I try to think about Bruce earlier in life instead. I use three kleenex in the first hymn.
There are readings from the old and new testaments. The officiant sings a lot of the service, a feature I hadn't realized Episcopalian funerals would have. I try to figure out which parts of the service Bruce would have enjoyed and which parts would have made him shrug his shoulders. I could hear him explain the historical progression that led to the modern Episcopalian service, only I couldn't because he wasn't there. I remember his voice, the rhythm of his speech, but I can't remember what he'd say because he hadn't said it yet. I know he would have known something obscure and entertaining.
I'm weirded out by the officiant carrying a Bible (I assume it's a Bible; it's a big closed book with a cross on the tooled leather cover) into the aisle and holding it over his head during part of the service. I was in a generic United Church of Christ congregation in my youth, with very little in the way of pageantry, followed by a few years of an even more informal Baptist congregation. This church is named after John the Baptist, but they're clearly not washed-in-the-blood-of-the-lamb dunked-in-the-river folks. I consider it a bit silly that I have opinions about Christian services given that I'm an atheist. I stand up and sit down when appropriate, and I keep my mouth shut during the prayers.
Dave Howell gets up and sings "Morning Has Broken." He sings it beautifully. I'm running out of room for used kleenex in my bag. Did Bruce like this song? Bruce liked music, but I don't remember his opinion on any particular piece of music. I like this song.
The service ends, and the bell tolls. I try to count the peals, because I think they have some meaning that I can look up later, but I lose track and wander off to John Donne (because really, one must) until I realize that we're expected to recess out to the churchyard while singing "Joyful, joyful we adore thee, God of glory, lord of love." Again, it's a hymn I know well, though I've always made fun of these lyrics ("Hearts unfold like flowers before thee -- " really? Origami hearts, maybe?). The Beethoven tune is of course heartbreaking even or perhaps especially in this situation. I still can't sing, so I walk out with Amy Thomson to the churchyard. The officiant says the appropriate words, and I think, Dust thou art, to dust returneth, was not spoken of the soul. Not a great poem, and yet it's full of memorable lines. Tell me not in mournful numbers, damn your eyes. I love many poems that are not great. Dunno what Bruce thought of it; I don't know what most of my friends think of most of the poems I like.
Margaret pours Bruce's ashes into the rather small hole prepared for them. A slight breeze stirs them up, and a bit of Bruce blows over us all. She trowels some dirt over the ashes, and I think, this is very hard, to make Margaret do this, but of course every bit of ritual is something she chose to do and something she and Bruce talked about before he died. These rituals have traditional reasons behind them, and they do help people heal. I think. I expect that either I'll carry Glenn's ashes out to the forest or he'll carry mine, some day, and pouring them into the earth and burying them will be hard, very hard, but it will be a thing we'll want to do, to have done.
I remember eating dinner after my maternal grandmother's non-interment, with the urn full of her ashes sitting on a chair in her sister's country club because we'd scheduled the service on a day when the sextant didn't dig holes and we weren't allowed to dig a hole ourselves. "Marian always loved a party," said Joan, and Virginia giggled. My great-aunts: Virginia died a few years after that, and Joan died last year. That accumulated funeral count again. I wonder if I ever told Bruce funny funeral stories. I bet he had some of his own, but I don't remember them.
We go to the parish hall, where the church ladies are serving coffee, punch, and cookies. We sit with friends and talk about Bruce. I remember the world's best orange peeler, a gadget Bruce had by the cartload because of some long-ago business venture of his dad's. Bruce gave us all orange peelers, maybe 10-15 years ago. "Oh, is that where that came from?" says Eileen. We all agree that they were, indeed, the world's best orange peelers, but that most people don't need a single-purpose orange peeler when a paring knife does the job nearly as well.
Dave talks about how kind Bruce was, how he was always doing things to make other people happy, how he wasn't ambitious because he had achieved his purpose in life: trying to make other people, and especially Margaret, happy.
After a while, we hug Margaret and go away.
Today, I remember Bruce singing in his slight but accurate low tenor voice: "Morning has broken, call the repairman. He said he'd be over an hour ago." I know Bruce wasn't the first person I heard sing that parody, not by years (I think that would have been my high school friend Melody Oakley, which adds both to my melancholy because Melody died of lung cancer a few years back and to the sweetness of the bittersweet memory, because Melody was also a person who always made connections between other people, who worked to surprise people in small pleasant ways and to get other people to be kind to each other, a much harder task). Bruce loved parodies. I wonder if Margaret and Dave had that in mind when they chose that song. Whether they did or not, it makes me happy to have that association.
Goodbye, Bruce. I know this entry is all about me and not about you. I am so sorry not to know what stories you would have told in response to my stories. I know they would have surprised me.